Thursday, February 17, 2011

First date food, almost five years later

Somewhere along the way, T and I decided that mussels were the perfect first date food. Maybe our focus on first dates lies in the fact that we never exactly had a first date, or maybe it's because in restaurants we love spotting potential first dates at neighboring tables and interpreting their interactions. Regardless, were we to meet again on a traditional first date that did not take place from 11 p.m. - 2 a.m. and did not involve me telling him he was ridiculous, we would choose to eat mussels.

Mussels are adventurous and revelatory: they are not for the squeamish, and right away they tell you a lot about a person as an eater, which in turn suggests many more things you hope to learn for yourself over time. Mussels are interactive: they're shared, there's a give-and-take involved, there are fingers unexpectedly meeting in the bowl. Mussels are also messy, and they don't take themselves too seriously: any food where you are likely to laugh, have dribble on your chin, and probably make a mess at the table... that's a fun food to eat with someone, in my opinion. Mussels are also about being insatiable: sopping up the broth with great crusty bread, and going back piece after piece because you just.can't.get.enough... why not be insatiable together?

In honor of that hypothetical romantic first date we will never have, we chose to make mussels at home this year for our Valentine's Day dinner. I'd never made mussels before, due mostly to lots of fantastic mussel spots in town a stroll away from us. But suddenly I realized that if our hypothetical first date would involve adventure and interaction and more.more.more, why couldn't our own kitchen have the same sensibility? We made a pact: every Valentine's Day, we'll try to cook something new together, something we've always wanted to try but never quite gotten around to. As such, with our first-ever mussels, we skipped a traditional white wine broth and went straight for spice and decadence. Of course we did.

Spicy Curried Mussels for Two
Adapted from Gourmet Today
(can easily be doubled to feed a table)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1.5 teaspoons curry powder (adjust depending on spiciness of your curry)
Pinch of red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry
2 pounds mussels (soaked, scrubbed, beards removed)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2.5 tablespoons water
A scattering of fresh chopped cilantro
Crusty bread

Soak mussels in a large pot or bowl of water for 20 minutes. Lift mussels out of water after soaking, rather than pouring everything in a strainer (there will be sand and debris left over in the pot). Discard any mussels that opened during the soaking process. Scrub mussels and remove beards, if any.

Melt butter in a large wide pot over moderate heat. Add shallots, curry powder, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sherry, bring to a simmer and simmer, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add mussels and cook, covered, over moderately high heat until they just open wide; check frequently after 4 minutes and transfer opened mussels to a bowl. (Discard any that have not opened after 8 minutes.)

Add cream and water to pot, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 1 minute. Add cilantro and salt to taste, pour over mussels, and toss gentle. Serve with bread for sponging up the sauce.


  1. One of my best girlfriends and her fiancé steamed the most amazing mussels for us when we visited them in Massachusetts last year. (Of course they're from New England.) The four of us had a grand (and messy) time eating them on their back porch. What a delicious memory.

  2. Wow. I really can't wait to try this recipe!

  3. You had me at mussels. The fact that cilantro and crusty bread were also included? Well, that's just gravy.

  4. Just found your blog through the Perks and wanted to say I think it's so cool that your name is Maggie Mae! I'm surprised I didn't end up with a name like that - my mom is a big Rod Stewart fan!


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